Senate Democrats narrowly agreed to renew Sen. Jim Kyle as head of its caucus, a vote he said shows some still have hard feelings about him defeating a longtime peer in this year’s primary election.
The Memphis Democrat was re-elected minority leader on a 4-3 secret ballot vote Tuesday on Capitol Hill after a challenge from Sen. Reginald Tate, also of Memphis.
“What I hear in the mode of that vote is that perhaps I need to change the way we do some things in my office. And I’ll take a look at it and do that,” Kyle told reporters Thursday.
He said he may have taken for granted that his members know what work he puts into the caucus, and added he needs to better market what he’s doing to his members.
The meeting was held largely in secret as there was little public notice of the caucus meeting, which officials originally planned for later in the year or shortly before the legislative session.
Kyle struck a deal with GOP leaders last year to draw him into the same district as Sen. Beverly Marrero instead of a rival Republican during legislative redistricting. The move was seen as a betrayal by Marrero, a 10-year legislator.
Kyle, elected to his fifth two-year leadership term and a former gubernatorial hopeful, said discontent over that move may have led to the split vote.
“I think there is some element to that. There sure was. Beverly was a very well-liked member,” he said. “Just have to try do the very best job you can as leader and work with folks the best way you can, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Kyle is responsible for representing the seven Democrats in the 33-member chamber, a number rendered meaningless for passing legislation in the Senate. Given the reality that the state is leaning harder toward Republicans, he said his strategy would change.
“There isn’t a vote that I make this legislative session [that] is going to change what people think of the national Democratic Party of this state,” he said. “Therefore, state politics is no longer local. It’s as national as Washington politics are. And so what we have to try to do is just do the very best we can do for our constituents, do the very best, what we think is the right thing to do, and just go on.”
All other caucus posts were uncontested. Sen. Lowe Finney, of Jackson, was elected to serve a third term as caucus chairman. Sens. Tate and Douglas Henry, of Nashville, were elected to serve on the Fiscal Review Committee and former Sen. Bob Rochelle was selected to sit on the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Those votes were all unanimous.